Stablemate Photography

A Simple Studio Setup

I’ve been meaning to translate my Facebook Gallery about Model Horse Photography Basics into a proper blog post for a while now… marry that up to my vow of finishing draft posts and here it is!

This post is about the various settings I use to photograph model horses in 1:32 (Breyer Stalemate) scale and smaller. The same things can be used for larger scales with a few tweaks. This post doesn’t cover image editing, white balances, etc. just Av, F-stops, and ISOs!

The Basics

  • F# Lens Aperture, F# (F5 -> F32)
    smaller number = more light, larger number = more depth of field
  • Av Shutter Speed, 1/x (1/15 -> 4)
    larger number = more light
  • ISO Film Speed, ISO (100 -> 1600)
    larger number = more grainy, more light

The Setup

Av Mode

I take my photos inside using the overhead room light and two spotlights with daylight bulbs. The light-bouncing backdrop is a big help at evening out the shadows, but it’s still a work in progress. You can see my other attempt at a lightbox in this post.

The camera I am currently using is a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (approx. 10.10 megapixels) with a 85mm Zoom Lens EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 II. As far as I can remember this is the lens it came with, but that was back in 2006…

I use a tripod and a remote switch/shutter button so I don’t have to touch the camera. When taking micro photos any little movement can ruin the shot. Stablemates are a little more forgiving, but not much.

Photo Details

After much experimentation it turned out that using Av (Aperture priority) mode was the easiest for me to get good pictures with. Av mode allows the photographer to control the aperture, while the shutter speed and ISO sensitivity are calculated by the camera.

Random Tip: Forget what settings you were using when you took the photo? Just right-click on it, choose Properties and scroll down to the Camera section! 🙂

Changing ISO

Changing the ISO


Miniature photography is done in a well lit location with zero movement, which means we get the luxury of ignoring this setting.

Example of ISO graininess

Seriously, just set the ISO to the lowest number that you can (which the camera will do automatically in Av mode). When the ISO value goes up the photo gets brighter, but it algo gets grainier.

Click on the photo of Suicide Kings to the right to enlarge and you can see how distorted the photo becomes. I’m assuming it’s possible to use photo editing software to correct for this sort of thing, but why bother?

If you want more background on ISO, here’s a link to an article all about ISO settings from a professional photographer: Understanding ISO – A Beginner’s Guide

Changing Av

Changing the Av Settings

I’m using Av mode, so it’s the primary setting I use to make sure the photo is well lit. I’ll be going over F-stops below, where I tweak the field of focus, but the Av settings is where I spend most of my time. I tend to retest these settings every time I take photos, because even though I’m shooting indoors, the light can change.

On my camera there is an bar that goes from -2 to +2 that allows me to change the Exposure Bias (shutter speed). This will change the Exposure Time which affects the amount of light in the photo.

The following photos are done at ISO 100, F20 and moving from the darkest (-2) to lightest (+2) settings on Av. When I doing a normal brightness check, I only do -1 to the 1 since my sweet spot is always somewhere in that range.

F20 1/4 ISO 100 -2 step 40mm

F20 1/3 sec ISO 100 -1.7 step 40mm

F20 1/2 sec ISO 100 -1.3 step 40mm

F20 0.6 sec ISO 100 -1 step 40mm

F20 0.6 sec ISO 100 -0.7 step 40mm

F20 1 sec ISO 100 -0.3 step 40mm

F20 1.3 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm

F20 1.3 sec ISO 100 -0.3 step 40mm

F20 2 sec ISO 100 -0.7 step 40mm

F20 2 sec ISO 100 -1 step 40mm

F20 2.5 sec ISO 100 -1.3 step 40mm

F20 4 sec ISO 100 +1.7 step 40mm

F20 4 sec ISO 100 +2 step 40mm

Changing F-stop

Changing the F-stop

So, now that I’ve figure out which Exposure Bias I want (right now I’m leaning towards 0 or +0.3) it’s time to play with the F-stop and the amount of the photo that is in focus. The camera is focused in the middle of the model and the sand was added so we can see the focus expand.

Changing the F-stop changes the size of the lens aperture and changes the focal distance and the amount of light. In Av mode the camera will change the Exposure Time (shutter speed) to compensate.

I started at the highest F-stop (32) and worked my way down to the lowest (5). This is another one I test out when I’m doing photoshots, since every setup is a little different. What I’m looking to find is the smallest focus field so that the horse is in focus, but the backdrop elements are blurred a bit. This helps the horse pop out from the setting. 🙂

F32 2.5 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F29 2 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F25 2 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm
F22 1.3 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F20 1 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F18 1 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm
F16 0.6 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F14 1/2 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F13 1/2 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm
F11 /-3 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F10 1/4 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F9 1/4 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm
F8 1/6 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F7-1 1/8 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F6.3 1/8 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm
F5.6 1/13 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm F5 1/15 sec ISO 100 +0 step 40mm

And there you have it!

While the exact settings that work will change slightly with each setup, once you get into the hang of things you’ll find it doesn’t take long to latch onto the right ones for each session. That being said, the nice thing about digital cameras is that they allow you to take dozens (hundreds?) of photos and then pick the very best shots to keep. As I learn more about my own setups, I’ll whip up a few more posts on where to place the lamps, better bounce boards, and the measurements of the layouts.

Just like everything else in this crazy little hobby, you never know what you’ll learn next! 😀

Got questions? Ask below and I’ll do my best to answer.

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

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